Organizations must prioritize professional development if they want to retain talent. It’s that clear cut and simple.
This statement was controversial 10 years ago, but thank goodness it is more accepted today. Most leaders at some level will say yes, true, we need to provide professional development.
However, what is still quite controversial is demanding leaders to have growth conversations that put employees in the driver’s seat.
Let me be clear: many leaders encourage employees to be accountable for their own development, but it is a much different ball game when leaders have employees choose to drive and step into their own development.
According to GALLUP, 87 percent of millennials and 69 percent of non-millennials rate professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them in a job. Yet according to CEB, 70 percent of employees are dissatisfied with their company’s growth options and choices.
Here’s the thing — what’s often missing from the career path conversation is an emphasis on allowing the individual to plot their own course of growth. Asking the right questions. Creating pre-planned paths for development can be beneficial for sparking ideas and providing options.
But, it’s important that the individual’s vision for themselves be the primary driver behind the plan.
Here’s a great example: I will never forget at our 2017 Fierce Summit, Brian Canlis, special guest and owner of Canlis restaurant, shared what he asks candidates during the interview process:
“How would being an employee at Canlis help you become the person you want to be?”
This question shifts the context of growth to where it becomes driven by the individual and their vision of who they want to become, rather than what they want to become. The who refers to the human being behind the work. And the answer is different for everyone.
How to Shift Your Growth Context
To some extent, integrating a self-driven approach will require organizations to redefine what growth means because it can be interpreted differently to others.
For example, growth isn’t always about promotions or gaining more knowledge in a particular area. Asking the question “who do you want to be?” is going to elicit a lot of varying responses.
A potential reality we need to keep in mind as leaders in the development conversation is that those we’re coaching may not know where they’re going or who they want to be.
When encouraging them to plot their own growth, some employees will know exactly who they want to become, while some will only have a vague idea. And others won’t have a clue.
Sample growth paths can be helpful in this area by providing a possible avenue. If employees don’t have a clue, sharing so different paths and explorations can be the biggest gift of all.
As leaders, we need to meet employees where they are. Providing sample growth paths that increase skills and accountability over time is important.
However, it is dangerous to assume that if individuals are provided with the right tools, that they will somehow follow specific paths. Exit interviews often reveal these types of disconnects.
A great example is a conversation I had recently with a young executive leader at a Fortune 500 company. He shared with me that he felt he had been given every development opportunity and resource to get to the next level of his career. That’s great, right?
Enthusiastically, I asked him how he felt about it all. To my surprise, he told me that he wasn’t sure the level his company wants him to attain is what he actually desires.
Worse yet, he said he feels his leaders aren’t responding to what he wants to build at the company, and instead he said they talk like “I owe them something” because an investment has been made in him. Woah. Talk about a disconnect.
In plotting a course of growth, plans obviously need to be intentional or they will fail. However, sample growth plans run the risk of being too prescriptive if we become attached to them.
People don’t know what they don’t know, so it’s important for organizations to walk the line of providing potential growth paths and being open to alternative paths that will naturally unfold when the individual is made an agent of their own growth.
Overly-prescriptive pathing is also a hindrance for organizations that want to be more innovative — it doesn’t work for people, and it doesn’t work for business.
One way to encourage employees to be an agent of their own development is to have them look for areas of opportunity that will help organizations be more agile. Too often the people deciding what that path is for business aren’t as close to the front lines of the problems, and these people need to be seeking the perspectives of those who actually are.
The front lines may be able to forecast job positions that aren’t needed now but may be needed in three to four years to come. Being aware of this potential need could provide additional growth options.
How Leaders Can Support a Self-Driven Path
Okay, so if I still have your attention, the natural progression is to ask: How do I shift the organizational mindset? I’d start with all people leaders. They need to be asking their teams:
“In what ways do you want to grow, and how can we fit that into the needs of the business?”
An important part of creating a growth plan is having a real, authentic conversation with yourself. Writing a stump speech is a great way to do this. Have your team members answer the following questions for themselves:
- Where are you going?
- Why are you going there?
- Who is going with you?
- How are you going to get there?
Keep in mind that not everyone will have an answer to these questions, and you must communicate upfront that it’s perfectly fine to not know. The main benefit of posing these questions is to ignite their thinking around growth and begin exploring possibilities together.
Whether an individual is certain or uncertain about the direction they want to go, having the right growth conversations will stimulate thinking and set their development on a positive trajectory.
One of the best ways to facilitate growth is to ask, “In what areas would you like to gain new responsibilities or grow your skills?” Then begin delegating new tasks in these areas.
Skillful DELEGATION is, in essence, a growth conversation. With this approach, newly-assigned decision-making opportunities become exciting and can potentially create more clarity in an individual’s growth plan.
It’s important for leaders to avoid dele-dumping, an ineffective delegation style where leaders assign tasks without consulting their team members. Dele-dumping often leads to stress instead of growth.
Another immediate way to support employees on their path of growth is to take an ongoing approach to FEEDBACK. When an employee is successful, acknowledge them right then and there so they can gain more awareness of the areas where they excel.
When things aren’t going so well, explore what they are seeing so they have an early opportunity to respond and learn. If feedback conversations are saved for bi-annual or annual reviews, employees completely miss out on daily opportunities for growth.
A core idea that we need to carry with us and integrate into growth conversations is that our success relies on others. It benefits others when you let them know the potential you see in them, and it can give people ideas and help them see what they may not see.
I know my personal growth is a direct result of all of the amazing people I have had the privilege to work within my career. I feel grateful for people seeing things in me and saying, “I think you would be great at XYZ.”
Although I’m accountable for my own growth, I’m inherently limited by my own perspective. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the perspectives of others and their willingness to communicate what they saw in me.
Take your own growth into your hands, and help others do the same.